Utah Transit Authority Considers New Electric Buses

Jul 28, 2014

An all-electric bus stopped in Salt Lake City Monday on a demonstration tour around the US. The Utah Transit Authority is looking at the bus for possible future use.

There are a few things you notice right away on board the latest model of Proterra’s 40-foot battery-powered electric bus. The driver controls are minimal, there’s a back window that let’s in more light… and it’s quiet. Matt Horton, the VP of Sales for Proterra Incorporated gives me his pitch in under 15 seconds.

“When most customers think about riding the bus, they think of a dirty polluting diesel bus that’s really loud. This bus is a hundred percent electric. It’s clean quiet, and very inexpensive to operate,” Horton says.

That may be true, but each bus costs more than 800 thousand dollars, and that doesn’t include the specialized charging technology. Horton argues that over the lifetime of the bus, the money saved on fuel costs makes up for the initial costs. The Utah Transit Authority has not made any purchasing commitments yet.  UTA Chief Capital Development Officer Steve Meyer says the zero emissions technology is appealing, but the agency has to consider whether it’s reliable and cost-effective.

“The batteries are probably the big issue with technology," Meyer says. "How do you make a longer lasting battery? How long do you have to replace those batteries? What are the overall lifecycle costs and what are the overall lifecycle benefits?”

UTA is currently building a new compressed natural gas fueling facility. Meyer says the agency has already invested in 24 CNG buses, and are getting about 20 more next year. He says UTA is always looking at new technology and ways to help improve air quality, but he says there is no set date for going electric.